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It is a pleasure to follow Richard Graham.
Many people have made incredibly important points about the cuts in so many different areas—FE, schools and children’s services—but I would like to focus my contribution on how the cuts are affecting children with special educational needs and disabilities. Among the written evidence given to our Education Committee inquiry on SEND, there is a really useful summary from the Devon SEND Improvement Board, which said:
“The level of funding for SEND provision remains insufficient to meet increasing demand and puts significant pressure on existing budgets. Local authority, NHS and High Needs Block budgets have not grown to reflect the increasing demand for EHCPs and specialist provision. Tension related to funding is directly affecting parental relationships with professionals and organisations. The increase in general costs is affecting schools’
ability to support increasing SEN needs for example increases in national insurance contributions and the rise in living wage, with no additional funding to cover these increases.”
I am not sure about everyone else in the House, but certainly the concern that stands out for me is the tension affecting parental relationships, which is something I am hearing about in my surgeries and in all the evidence given to the Education Committee. Parents relate having to fight the system in order to get the support their child needs. That point was made a number of times.
One of the more worrying pieces of evidence, submitted by Christine Lenehan, is that in some special schools 100% of the children attending are there only because their parents were able to fight through tribunal. She said that is actually a class issue, because it is white, middle-class parents who are able to go to a tribunal and know how to work the system and where to get support. What about all those children whose parents do not have the same cultural capital and do not know how to go out there and fight for them? They are not in these residential special schools, so where are they and what is happening to them?
Jean Gross mentioned the lack of interventions and support for children with SEND. She talked about the lack of speech and language therapies. I am sorry, but that is also a class issue. I know from parents in my constituency that those who can afford it will of course pay for speech and language provision for their children. They will pay for additional tutoring and support, but that is not universally available to all children. The SEND cuts are not only cruel and unfair, but exacerbating the situation that children are already facing. All this talk of social mobility and equality of opportunity is not played out in the schools system that has been created by this Government.
I have two asks in relation to SEND funding. First, the Government should stop the idea of notional funding of £6,000 for schools and instead make that actual funding. Secondly, they should look at reforming the whole of SEND funding, because so much is based on what local authorities get. We know that there is no correlation between the number of SEND children in an area and the amount of money it gets, because that is based on a historical formula rather than an actual formula for that year. Instead, I would like the Government to consider some kind of SEND pupil premium money, which would follow the child around the country. That way, even if the child moved between local authorities, their parents would still know that they were entitled to the same amount of money to meet their needs. At the moment it is a postcode lottery.
In my last effort to be helpful—I do like to be helpful to the Government—I have identified some departmental savings that the Government might be interested in. One is the 84 interest-free loans that have been given to multi-academy trusts, with no information on how much was given or when it was given. A recent freedom of information request on what the associated conditions were was refused We could also ask the Education and Skills Funding Agency to do an asbestos survey on buildings before schools actually move into them, which could save millions of pounds in decontamination costs.
We could also look into making savings by re-brokering and being a little more open and transparent about how much money has been handed out by regional schools commissioners to encourage academy chains to take on other ones. We could look at the pupil number adjustments, and at academy trusts getting extra money for schools with an estimated roll. How much money has been written off by that rather secret process? Could we have more transparency on that? Finally, could we look at helping schools to save the £200 million they collectively pay on entry fees for exams?